Occupy DC eviction at McPherson: Reflections on one year ago

by John Zangas

I stood by my tent late at night gazing up at the Tent of Dreams, its blue tarp billowing in the cold wind. Another occupier approached me. He said that police planned to raid the camp later that night. Just five days before, U.S. Park Police had warned us that they would start enforcing the statute against sleeping or possession of sleeping bags and blankets. Uneasily I went from tent to tent spreading the news. What would happen to our camp if there was a raid?

The warnings proved true: police arrived in legions before dawn and began cordoning off K Street and surrounding areas in every direction. It was February 4, 2012, the day that an overwhelming police force mobilized to evict Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

We occupied McPherson Square to protest structural socio-economic inequality. We didn’t camp to create conflict with police or local businesses, although the media portrayed us that way. It was easy for them to define us by appearance and not by purpose. We had carefully articulated our concerns, both from socio-economic and ecological standpoints, in our December 1st declaration.

Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Ethics committee, had called a hearing to question the National Park Service’s handling of the McPherson Occupation. But even if Congress had been friendly to our cause, it alone couldn’t resolve our concerns on behalf of the people. The very edifice of banking, Wall Street, commerce and government was the problem, we believed.

Published reports of bank and Wall Street misconduct and legal actions against them justified our actions: up to 90% of foreclosure transactions were fraudulent, according to whistleblower accounts. Rampant mortgage fraud and misconduct during the 2008-2010 foreclosure crisis resulted in a $25 billion settlement by five major banks. They did not have to admit wrongdoing.

Banks across the U.S. and Europe were involved in the LIBOR scandal, which fraudulently valued trillions in assets by fixing bank to bank loans while cheating borrowers in 2007. With knowledge of LIBOR irregularities, the U.S. Federal Reserve still loaned banks billions in interest-free TARP money in 2008.

Another major issue we stood for was action on global warming. There is ever-increasing scientific evidence of world climate change–catastrophic storms and new temperature records across the U.S. Meanwhile, measurements in ice-flow melting rates in Iceland and the Antarctic are accelerating at rates never before seen.

We were protesting all this and more and believed the people supported us, yet mainstream media was neglecting the vital issues.

We didn’t want to confront police, but when they came to McPherson Park to take down Occupy DC–as police had earlier that year evicted every Occupation in a major city–we couldn’t stop the freight train approaching at full speed.

That morning they stationed a tactical command center truck, positioned sharp shooters with scopes on rifles on building rooftops, deployed a fully armed paramilitary squad with tasers and automatic weaponry, and sent a horse cavalry onto the green. They erected truckloads of metal barricades around the perimeter and strung yellow tape. It was as if they came to fight a battle against a domestic terror group. But we had no weapons; we were a non-violent movement and they knew it.

They immediately removed the Tent of Dreams tarp from the statue of General McPherson and arrested four protestors at its base for “failure to obey” police orders. Several scuffles broke out and there were injuries, as police in full riot gear strategically moved throughout the camp dissembling tents, overwhelming the camp and its occupiers. Workers in white hazmat suits threw away most of the tents, and vehicles tore up rain-soaked ground. The park ground was ripped to tatters, mostly by the operation itself.

I stood in front between police and protestors, perhaps foolishly, in the role of a reporter taking pictures and videos until the last of my phone memory ebbed. The police ignored me. Teams of strong men slid metal barricades into place like fake movie props. As dusk approached and a drizzle fell, occupiers stood together as one at the People’s Library, singing songs of camaraderie, such as “I shall not be moved” and “We shall overcome.” Then there was a sudden push as police forced us out of the park and onto K Street. The Occupation had ended, or so we thought.

We held a spontaneous General Assembly and testified to the day’s experiences late into the rainy night. Washington D.C. now had dozens of new homeless on its streets. Word came from Luther Place Memorial Church that they would give us a place to stay.

I returned to the park early the next morning to an unrecognizable landscape. A few police were still there standing watch. I looked to where my tent one stood and found nothing but a deep furrow of mud dug by truck wheels. Nearly every tent and sign was gone. But the beloved People’s Library still stood! The books were untouched, still organized on their shelves.

I felt resignation and wondered how the movement had come to this. We believed the people supported us, especially those hurt by the repressive system of banks, Wall Street brokers, selfish CEO’s and a government corrupted by cozy relationships with them. But yesterday, where was our cavalry, where were the people? Had we failed?

I thought about our efforts to make the change our society so desperately needed: the meetings we held, the discussions, the classes, the hundreds of free meals prepared in our kitchen, the extraordinary time we put into the declaration of societal wrongs, and wondered if anything we had done had made a difference.

We challenged institutions and authority in a pitched battle of wills for four long months. Their final response was to send in a paramilitary force to shut us down. We had no weapons with us that day or any other day other than our will and perseverance.

In the coming months we continue to occupy the park in a limited way. We weren’t allowed to camp, but our library remained open and even a few tents stayed until June.

Noam Chomsky said that the Occupy movement “lit a spark” of awareness. Although we were evicted from the park, I believe that ultimately we had made a difference. We prevailed by standing up to the authors of a broken system. We showed others that it could be done.

Missing the Jack Lew connection: How a Citigroup exec becomes Treasury Secretary

Jack Lew, former COO of Citigroup Alternative Investments, current White House Chief of Staff–and future U.S. Treasury Secretary (Photo AP / J. Scott Applewhite)

Frontline’s most recent program entitled “The Untouchables,” which aired on January 22, outlined how Lanny Breuer, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, and his Deputy were unwilling to prosecute Wall Street bankers in spite of evidence of fraud. Breuer confessed to the New York Bar Association that he was up nights thinking about how his actions potentially may have had tragic ripple effects throughout the economy.

Frontline did a good job in calling out Breuer and the Justice Department. So good that DOJ called “The Untouchables” a “hit piece,” and Lanny Breuer has resigned his position. Still, Frontline failed to point out a vital connection with a key Obama cabinet appointment.

U.S. Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew, the current White House Chief of Staff, used to be in charge of the very Citigroup department that was the subject of a Senate hearing. Frontline documented the Citigroup policy of bank underwriters’ approving mortgages that would eventually go into failure, and even showed Senator Carl Levin questioning the chief underwriter of Citigroup. Levin asked him whether he believed the bank he worked for had been running a scam by intentionally granting housing loans destined to fail while at the same time betting heavily against the housing market.

Of course, it was a scam. It conned many people out of their paychecks, their life savings and their retirements. Ultimately, it crushed the economy. One merely needs to look at the jobs market to see how the economy is devastated beyond repair. And Jack Lew, soon to be Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, played a key role in the mismanagement of risk.

All too often the federal government chooses to address a problem with the very same individuals who played roles in creating the problem. This isn’t the “Hope” and “Change” that Obama voters were expecting when they pledged their support for the President in 2008.

According to an officer outside the Alfalfa Club dinner Saturday night, Metropolitan police have yet to negotiate a contract or receive a pay increase in 7 years. Teachers, healthcare workers or any individual who has a job remotely connected to the government stand to lose their jobs after March 27. Had individuals like Jack Lew not created the economic collapse of 2008, more than likely we would not be facing such harsh cuts.

Like Frontline, mainstream media outlets have dropped the ball as well. Few are making the connection between Jack Lew and his former role at Citigroup (contrast this article on Huffington Post), or pointing out the continuing relationship of the U.S. Treasury with firms which received bailout money, such as Lew’s former employer.

What’s more, the mainstream propaganda machine is hard at work validating President Obama’s choice for Treasury Secretary and whitewashing Jack Lew’s involvement in this fraud. Not only are big bankers going unpunished, in the Obama administration they are being rewarded with cabinet appointments. We need a watchdog media that has the courage to say so.

S17: Occupy protest tactics mature with experience

NYPD barricades Wall Street on S17

by John Zangas

Occupy Wall Street held a 300+ person public action meeting at One Police Park Square, the NYPD headquarters, while several dozen officers watched. The stern-faced officers were privy to the details of the plan for S17 before it even kicked off.

It was one of Occupy Wall Street’s most elaborately planned non-violent direct actions to date. The Shut Down Wall Street plan called for splitting protestors between four major zones in downtown Manhattan and effectively disrupting the financial district.

Groups of protestors met early in the morning in predetermined places to disperse into the four zones, designated Eco, Education, Debt and the 99%. Each zone represented the major objectives Occupy has organized to change: the behaviors of Banks, Lobbies, Corporations, the NY Stock Exchange and Wall Street.

There is strength and critical mass in one giant group, yet OWS tried a different strategy: four groups scattered and roving in random directions in an effort to create more confusion and chaos. Separating into four groups was a bold tactical risk because it diluted the strength of the protest. The splitting tactic demonstrated the growing confidence organizers have gained since the Occupy movement began a year ago.

Authorities attempted to keep the NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and banks open, but the roving protest groups challenged their resources. Hundreds of NYPD officers were pulled between sites and constantly needed to be on the move to keep up. Unpredictable roving protests challenged logistics and communications, both for protestors and police. Authorities were deployed in advance to block access to key sites, because it was not certain when a group would show up. Barricades, foot patrol, mounted police, motorcycle police and vehicles clogged major arteries and snarled traffic. When blocked from proceeding, protestors countered by circling intersections.

Photographs and video footage show Wall Street, the NY Stock Exchange, Pine and Exchange Streets and other streets closed off, as well as barricaded and restricted access to corporations and banks (except for ID carrying employees). It shows that business was anything but business as usual on S17. Protestors may have been blocked from the targets they most wanted to reach, such as the Stock Exchange. But police themselves essentially completed the task protestors had set out to do–impede the normal flow to the point of shutdown.

In addition, there were the props of street theater and good visuals for press. Chalk slogans and messages were drawn at critical junctures. A five-foot “Debt Boulder” rolled over and through the crowd. A slick body guard cleared a path for a Transformers-like character called the “Bain Capital Job Eliminator.” Lady Liberty marched along with colorful dancers, and the baseball team of the One Percent–the Tax Dodgers–paraded with their cheerleaders the Corporate Loopholes. And of course there was no shortage of signs expressing the feelings of the 99%.

It wasn’t the intent of OWS to close the stock market, prevent banks from transferring funds or stop corporations and lobbies from business operations. The NY Stock Exchange opened on time and closed promptly at 4pm, despite barricades, police and protests. There was no interruption in the electronic ticker tapes, which closed down 40 points at the bell.

But there was no doubt everyone knew OWS was back, on the street and in Zuccotti Park again, even if it wasn’t a permanent Occupation. OWS demonstrated flexibility in tactics of protest, showed that can mobilize thousands of people from all around the country and has no problem announcing its action plan beforehand.

The massive presence of Occupy Wall Street shows it is still an organization with much energy, active and relevant at its one-year mark. The true test for OWS will be how much it is able translate direct actions into influence for the betterment of citizens affected by social and economic woes. Its tactics must remain interesting, informative, non-violent and provocative in order for its strategy to work in the long run.

S17: Shut Down Wall Street

 

Tactical map of Shut Down Wall Street

by John Zangas

The plan to Shut Down Wall Street consisted of dividing lower Manhattan into four zones of non-violent protest, each assigned an issue area. Activists could gravitate to their area of interest: Education Bloc, 99% Bloc, Ecology Bloc, or Strike Debt Bloc. Each bloc communicated by text message.

The elaborate plan was a tactical split of the thousands of protestors into these four blocs with 8-10 targets per zone. The targets included banks, corporations, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Wall Street Bull, and lobbies.

The NYPD response effectively blocked protest access to many targeted sites, including the NYSE, the Bull, and major Banks. Protestors reverted to “Plan B” which involved roving between sites, further extending the protest zones and police coverage. Although police blocked access to major targets, it was in fact the massive police response to protestors which resulted in achieving the objective: a virtual shutdown of the financial district.

Spokes Council at Battery Park

Protestors eventually converged in Battery Park at midday for a giant Spokes Council. Reps of various affinity groups gave report backs of successes and challenges. Later everyone reconvened at Zuccotti for the final General Assembly and cutting of birthday cake for the 99%.

 

Zuccotti Park Re-Occupied

by John Zangas

On September 15 at 5pm, about 300 Occupy Wall Street activists assembled at Washington Square arch. Escorted by a contingent of fifty NYPD motorcycle police, several dozen police vehicles and over 150 foot patrol, they marched down Broadway chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” An “Occupy Wall Street’” banner led the way to Zuccotti Park, former home base of the movement.

Thus Occupy Wall Street temporarily and symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park for the weekend of its anniversary. Zuccotti Park is located in the heart of New York’s financial district only a block from Wall Street. It was the hotbed for a wave of protests which swept across New York City last year.

The Zuccotti encampment inspired the occupations of parks and municipal sites in almost every major city in the country. The camp endured for eight weeks until evicted by New York police on November 15, 2011.

Occupy Wall Street turns One

After a summer of near-dormancy, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) came roaring back to life in lower Manhattan in a stunning choreography of protests. trainings and events. OWS had carefully planned the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the movement’s founding on September 17, 2011. The weekend culminated in activists’ attempting to shut down the Wall Street financial district on Monday morning.

Members of Occupations all around the country traveled to New York to join OWS in solidarity. Occupiers also symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park, site of the OWS encampment for nearly two months.

Why We Occupy

Note that hedge fund manager John Paulson would have a stack of bills 370 times taller than Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.